Monday, September 15, 2014

Drive-In Super Monster-Rama 2014 recap!

Few things are as exciting for me as the annual drive-in festivals hosted at the Riverside Drive-In. Considering I talk to people there who make the drive from as far away as Canada, I feel lucky I only have to drive about 45 minutes to see a late-night horror festival full of the kind of movies I grew up watching, and that just don't get made anymore. If you were there, then why did you not buy me something from the snack bar? And if you were not there, then here's a rundown of all the classic exploitation-schlock-adventure-horror-fantasy shenanigans!


Friday September 12th featured three films by Italian director Mario Bava, plus one classic "Exorcist" ripoff flick. The first movie to screen was "Kill Baby Kill" (1966), a definite high point in Bava's career. Full of signature Bava images, such as dramatic colored lighting effects and shadowy figures moving through brightly lit fog, "Kill Baby Kill" is a period piece set in a small Carpathian village haunted by the murderous ghost of a long-dead child. The gothic sets are stunning, especially a spooky villa inhabited by the dead child's grieving mother. At one point, the camera swirls round and round while characters are rushing up and down a spiral staircase, one of those beautiful and bizarre moments reminding you that you're watching a Bava movie.

"But I CAANT be your daughter, my name is Monica SHOOF-tun!"

Second was "Dr. Goldfoot on the Girl Bombs" (1966), a sequel to the previous year's "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine". Starring Vincent Price and Fabian, it's a spy caper spoof that makes "Get Smart" look like something meaningful and intelligent. Price's character is a villain who carries out a vengeful plot to murder a series of Generals by using a small army of "girl bombs"--beautiful female robots who explode when they are kissed and embraced. It is a pretty strange film, with Price constantly breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience, and...well, one of the sight gags in the movie is Price and his cronies escaping in a jet while the heroes chase him in a hot air balloon, which they use to fly up next to the plane, knock on the door, and gain entrance by pretending to be selling Fuller brushes. It was a strange choice for the Monster-Rama, but not entirely unwelcome, either. It was interesting the way Bava put his touch on the material, with a lot of cinematography that was immediately identifiable as his. Considering how different this film is compared to "Kill Baby Kill", it's curious that both were released the same year.

Probably the biggest deal for me on this particular program was "The House of Exorcism", a flick I've never seen on a big screen before. "Lisa and the Devil" is one of my favorite Bava films, a gorgeous nightmare of a movie, and "The House of Exorcism" is a garish splash of green bile all over Bava's Mona Lisa. Still, the film's strange history is interesting, and this cut of the film is definitely more appropriate for a drive-in festival than Bava's art house horror original. The barely-there plot introduces Lisa Reiner, a tourist whose body apparently becomes possessed, not by a demon but by a departed human spirit that trades places with her. It makes no sense, but it's a reason for Elke Sommer to spew green bile and swear words.

Finishing out Friday night was the original 1974 "Beyond the Door", directed by Ovidio Assonitis and his cinematographer, Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli. Originally, this slot was to be filled by Mario Bava's final 1977 film "Schock", which was released in the US and UK in 1979 as "Beyond the Door II", but a last minute change must have been necessary. "Beyond the Door" is a welcome addition to any drive-in festival though, a gloriously trashy example of exploitation filmmaking that kept the possession theme going for the evening. A blatant ripoff of "The Exorcist", "Beyond the Door" should really need no introduction to any fan of 70s horror--even if you've never seen it, you probably remember the pervasive spooky ad campaign with scary demon voices in it. Every time I watch "Beyond the Door", I wonder why Warner Brothers didn't sue its makers the way they sued the makers of "Abby", because even though the story isn't all that similar (and doesn't even feature an exorcism or an exorcist), it rips off the green bile, the rotating head, the levitation, the bedroom tantrums, all of it.


Another strong lineup featured on Saturday, starting with two Hammer Dracula films, 1970's "Taste the Blood of Dracula" and 1972's "Dracula A.D. 1972". Interestingly enough, these two seemingly different movies both had the same setup: some errant disciple of Dracula resurrects the Count via a Satanic ritual, which begs the question, why are people who worship Satan interested in Dracula? Isn't that kind of like saying Dracula is better? "Taste the Blood of Dracula" has the more fascinating story, with a group of three seemingly upstanding men meeting in secret to indulge in evil pastimes, apparently of the sex and booze variety. When they get bored with this and start looking for more excitement, they hook up with a man who talks them into resurrecting Dracula. One interesting moment has one of the men attempting to stake his vampirized daughter, only to have her awaken and drive the stake through his own heart, aided by Dracula and pals of course. Stake revenge! "Taste the Blood of Dracula" is one of the more fascinating Hammer Dracula films, with gorgeous period costumes and sets and a unique story. "Dracula A.D. 1972", on the other hand, seems to usually be regarded as one of Hammer's more ridiculous entries in the series. Played straight, it features another latter-day Dracula disciple who calls himself Johnny Alucard (hmmmm...) using a group of swinging London kids to bring Dracula back to life. Luckily, Peter Cushing is in this one as a descendant of Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing, and Dracula is out to wreck his life by turning his granddaughter Jessica into a vampire. There's lots of silly dialogue ("Ghastly, horrible, obscene murder!"), but it doesn't all seem to be unintentional, especially the scene where Van Helsing has to draw a diagram to figure out that "ALUCARD" is "DRACULA" spelled backwards. Geez, hasn't he ever seen "Son of Dracula"??

Third on the list was 1970's "Trog", Joan Crawford's notorious final feature film. A British production directed by Freddie Francis, "Trog" finds Crawford in the right place at the right time when spelunkers discover a hidden cave containing a living ape-man that Crawford immediately identifies as the missing link. But never mind that, not only is the world unimpressed with the fact that a real caveman has been found alive somewhere, but the locals want it destroyed because it killed one of the spelunkers. Additionally, no greater authority shows up to claim Trog, and Joan gets to keep him in a cage in her lab, where she teaches him to do things like throw a ball, catch a ball, and play with dolls. Eventually the obligatory rampage occurs, which features a few grisly moments like when a butcher winds up impaled through the head with a meat hook after getting on Trog's bad side. "Trog" borrows an ape suit from Kubrick's "2001", as well as recycled stop-motion dinosaur footage by Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien from Irwin Allen's 1956 film "The Animal World".

"Darling, when I say there should be Pepsi, I mean there should be Pepsi."

The fourth and final feature was "The House That Screamed" (1969), directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador ("Who Can Kill A Child"). Definitely a slow burn, the story concerns a school for wayward girls helmed by headmistress Fourneau (Lilli Palmer), who abuses the girls who gets on her nerves and tries to keep her own teenage son away from them at the same time. The problem is, the girls seem to keep "running away", which is to say some unseen character is murdering them, but WHO? The film's shadowy cinematography didn't translate well to the drive-in screen and some of the scenes were hard to make out, but the movie is full of spooky atmosphere and little touches that reminded me of later films like "Suspiria" and "Black Christmas".

The weather was appropriately chilly, with some great mist creeping in right around 3am Saturday night, just when "The House That Screamed" started to play. This was another great year for the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama. Many thanks to George Reis of DVD Drive-In, the Riverside Drive-In Theater, and everybody who made the journey to be part of the audience...hope to see you in April for April Ghouls!

1 comment:

The Greek said...

NIce summary of a wonderful weekend. Can't wait for April!